1. Creighton: With preseason player of the year Doug McDermott and three other starters back from a team that won the MVC tournament last season, it was a no-doubter that the Bluejays would be picked first in the league. “Obviously there’s a lot of anticipation in our community for this team, and we’ve got to deal with those expectations and try to make sure they don’t impact our preparation,” said coach Gregg McDermott. “At least to this point, I feel like that’s been the case.”
2. Illinois State: The Redbirds lost Nic Moore to transfer, but they return all-MVC second-team center Jackie Carmichael and a total four of five starters. “It’s certainly a credit to (former coach Jim Jankovich) and my staff – the team I have coming back,” said new coach and former Illinois State player Dan Muller. “There aren’t any roster or personnel things, except that Nic Moore left, that we had to address. Now it’s just about establishing my culture and my expectations.”
3. Northern Iowa: Another team with four of five starters back, the Panthers didn’t get hit with the transfer bug from reigning MVC freshman of the year Seth Tuttle. They have what coach Ben Jacobson described as “quality depth,” returning eight players who logged regular minutes last season. “And we had a couple players who redshirted us this past year as well as a couple guys that have been in our program now for one or two years and have been working to find their weight in the rotation,” Jacobson said.
4. Wichita State: Coming off a 27-win season, the Shockers will have to use a different core group if they’re to make another NCAA tournament appearance. “I think the biggest challenge is getting them to all understand, first of all, how hard you have to play and the mental and physical toughness that’s required to play basketball at this level,” said coach Gregg Marshall. “Then you mold them into a cohesive unit…There’s a lot of trust that goes along with it.”
5. Evansville: Colt Ryan is poised to have a special year, and he’s joined by three other seniors. That doesn’t guarantee anything in a tough MVC, where the Aces haven’t been picked better than fifth since 2000. “I’d think having guys who have been through this more than others would help, but it just comes down to mentality, ability to execute and have guys step up in particular situations – all the things I’m sure each coach is talking to their team about right now,” said coach Marty Simmons.
6. Drake: The Bulldogs were one of five teams to tie for third in the MVC last season with a 9-9 record. Most key pieces back from that team, save for now-transferred guard Rayvonte Rice, and Drake could eye the top half of the league. “We’re just like everybody in the country right now,” said coach Mark Phelps. “We’re excited about our team and our opportunity.”
7. Indiana State: A rare case along with Wichita State, at least in this year’s MVC, is the Sycamores. They return just one starter, point guard Jake Odum, who’s fully healthy after taking a month-long break between the team’s Bahamas trip and the beginning of the season. If there was one guy to return, it would be Odum. “He’s been a pretty darn good one since he took over the reins here,” coach Greg Lansing said. “It’s a little different with him this year. Last year, I think he felt at times he couldn’t be the leader that he wanted to be or the leader he is because we did have four seniors.”
8. Missouri State: The Bears will rebuild this year and welcome six freshmen – two who have been redshirted – in doing so. Coach Paul Lusk took his team on a Costa Rica trip over the summer, the program’s first foreign tour, and he said it’s paid off. “So now when we started in the fall, some of the concepts – some of the things we’re trying to teach our guys – it’s not foreign to them,” he said.
9. Bradley: Coach Geno Ford hopped on Monday’s conference call not knowing his Braves were picked 9th. He assumed they’d be 10th despite returning four starters, though Bradley did go 7-25 last season. “Just because we’re better, that’s not going to mean anything unless we’re able to go out and find a way to beat some awfully good teams,” Ford said. “But I do like our group, and I think we can give some more resistance certainly than what we were able to do a year ago.”
10. Southern Illinois: The Salukis have an emphatic new leader in former Missouri State coach Barry Hinson. What they don’t have is a lot of personnel – fewer than 10 players were available for an exhibition over the weekend, and Dantiel Daniels was lost during the game for five weeks to a foot injury. “If we can ever get healthy, I think we can play guys without having to have oxygen tanks behind the bench,” Hinson quipped.